Bill C-36

Last year, we published The Bedford Decision – Sex work, the law, and what this means to you!, a post discussing and dissecting the upcoming changes to Canada’s laws surrounding sex work, and our charter of rights and freedoms.

In November 2014, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-36: The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (or PCEPA). This Act criminalizes the following:

  • The purchase of sex – where sex workers themselves were criminalized under the previous laws, the lens has shifted now to criminalized purchasers of sex
  • Communicating for the purposes of selling sex in any place within public view, or near school grounds, playgrounds, or daycare centres
    • Courts are authorized to seize materials containing these advertisements, or order their removal from the Internet
  • Gaining material benefit (such as cash) from sex work

Below, we will explore two of these amendments that may most obviously impact our community and purchasers of sex.

 Gaining Material Benefit vs. Living on the Avails

As is clear here in comparison to the previous Criminal Code, little has changed as far as legality is concerned. The biggest difference is the criminalization of purchasers of sex over sellers, which still creates an unsafe environment for sex workers in dealing with law enforcement and in conducting business.

Another change is the ‘gaining of material benefit’. In summary, the amendment reads –

‘Everyone who receives a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it is obtained by or derived directly or indirectly from the commission of an offence under subsection 286.1(1), is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years’

While individuals who gain material benefits (for example, cash) from sex work are still criminalized, this replaces the original provision that stated ‘living on the avails’ in a very general way – this new provision does not apply to those in ‘legitimate living arrangements’, such as family members, or those with ‘legal or moral obligations’ to sex workers, such as landlords. This provision seeks to specifically encompass exploitative and abusive relationships.

Online Advertising

A gray area in terms of communication with people who wish to purchase sexual services from a provider is online advertising. On one hand, while the Internet could be considered a ‘public place’ by the definition provided within the amendment (that is, any place where a minor could reasonably be expected to frequent), it is not technically a physical location near a school, playground or daycare – the three restricted locations mentioned specifically within the bill. However, outright advertising posts or some online communication may fall under the activities prohibited in the bill.

The risk here is not necessarily to a sex worker who is advertising his own services, but if people are working within a collective, looking to hire someone, or working with an agency, then prosecution could result. All clients who communicate with sex workers (or their co-workers/partners) online are at risk of being criminally charged.

Bill C-36 is required to be reviewed after five years, though some have raised the issue this is too long to wait to examine potential harms. For now, it is important to arm ourselves with this knowledge to be able to effectively navigate the system laid out for us.

If you are interested in learning more about the details of Bill C-36, its implications and its possible effects, please see the list of resources below for more information.

Resources and References

Bill C-36: A Backgrounder Pivot Legal Aid Society

Reckless Endangerment: Q&A on Bill C-36 HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Pivot Legal Society and Stella, l’amie de Maimie

Bill C-36 Full text of the bill from the House of Parliament